“My memories that I do get,” says Mark Hogancamp, “They come back in stills, just a single shot, but no context.” They remind him that he was married, lived in a nice house, and was beaten nearly to death one night outside the bar where he works in Kingston, New York. Since then, he’s learned to walk and speak again—and also to translate his experience into art. Jeff Malmberg’s extraordinary documentary tells Hogancamp’s story the way he does, using photos he’s taken of a circa WWII Belgian village he’s made up out of plywood and dolls. Marwencol’s population includes 27 Barbies and Mark’s alter ego, a U.S. soldier. Having learned that before the attack he was a terrible drunk, antagonistic and angry, now Mark wants the bar in Marwencol to be a place where everyone can drink and smoke cigarettes—Americans, Germans, and French together. “Everybody got along,” he says, “Nobody was against one another, no matter what clothing they wore.” Attentive to details in his world, Mark drags jeeps along pavement to make sure the tires are suitably worn, paints dolls’ faces and meticulously sets up situations to photograph—catfights and romances, snowy street scenes, Doll Mark’s torture by the SS and subsequent rescue by “the women of Marwencol.” If the town helps him to sort out his past from a distance, the film becomes another process, a means to self-understanding as well as wry commentary on a wider world.
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